I never thought I would see the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of the United States military essentially being a witness against the previous President of the United States. Yet here we are.
Yesterday General Mark Milley appeared before Congress testifying about his involvement around the events of the January 6th insurrection. In particular his phone calls around that time to his equivalent in the Chinese military that essentially democracy is messy but the country is stable.
He was also going to ensure that he was not alone in doing this:
I personally informed both Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff [Mark] Meadows about the call, among other topics. Soon after that, I attended a meeting with Acting [Defense] Secretary [Chris] Miller, where I briefed him on the call.”
The military used to be at one with the United States both functionally and in its self-image, but here he is having a crack at his Commander in Chief from just a few months previous. I want to pay attention to the optics of General Milley standing against his own government for a moment, then get to its potential impact on the Republicans.
Does anyone remember those heady days when the military-entertainment complex could be relied upon to be as one with the nation? We’ve had US Department of Defence co-scripting films that enabled Americans to love war most particularly since Jerry Bruckheimer’s 1986 Top Gun.
With their united help, the nation would and did learn to love the military again after its 1970s and early 1980s disasters. Then the military helped out with Star Trek IV, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Deep Impact, Godzilla, and of course all those Transformers movies to name but a few.
They just happen to be some of the most popular and successful movies ever made, not only for US audiences, but here in New Zealand too. You can almost guarantee there are scripts flying around Hollywood trying to figure out Trump’s last days and how the military reacted. The US narrative industry hasn’t kept up with this cultural shift, but it will.
That starts to illustrate the schism underway between the Trump-led Republican party and the US military. Their own generals are condemning him.
General Milley has already been in trouble with Republicans as they frame the “woke” military, as he pushed real hard against Rep. Matt Gaetz when asked whether certain books were appropriate to be taught in the military:
In that exchange we have General Milley as a defender of teaching humanities:
I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding—having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?”
Critical Race Theory, Milley suggested, would be useful in understanding “white rage” as well as the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol:
What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out.”
Given that white extremism is their number one internal security threat, that sounds pretty reasonable. The General as humanist, diplomat, scholar, tough guy, courageous witness, leader, giving it straight back to Matt Gaetz the Republican’s own special love-child.
But then it started. Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, then got into it in that June hearing:
Anti-American indoctrination [is] seeping into parts of our military.
In May Senator Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted in response to a recruitment ad showcasing the army’s diversity.
Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea.”
The US armed forces are appearing as a surprising defender of diversity. Which given the decades of systemic racism and misogyny that were a dominant feature of that military culture, that defence of human rights gives a shadowed contrast to where the Republicans are now.
It was also General Milley, when ordered to walk with President Trump against the Black Lives Matter protest in Lafayette, later scolded himself saying “I should not have been there. My presence there created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
The mind-exploding thing is that the military ought to be relied upon to support and vote for the Republican Party. The Republicans have more reliably than the Democrats funded the US Military so that they continue to operate in their glorious failing excess.
So when Milley was uncovered as having called the Chinese military that the organised chaos around January 6th would pass, not only did Trump and associates pile in, but super-isolationists like Senator Rand Paul tweeted “He should be court marshalled if true.”
This kind of rift is set to expand as the January 6th Senate Committee hearings continue. Then comes the Committee report, and more fulsome support for Milley through the White House. Pretty soon we’re at the 2022 mid-terms.
Senate Democrats and of course the President will be able to bring the US defence leadership firmly to their side of the aisle. That might not sound big, but in US politics it is.
It might not mean that the great military-entertainment complex stops, nor certainly will it alone stop the broader military-industrial complex of which is that is part. But I think it does mean that the long Republican romance with the military has come to an end.
When you look at all those towns, cities, ports and airbases with large military contingents, that’s a lot of mostly male voters for Republican leadership to piss off.
This isn’t going to work out well for the Republicans: it’s a highway to the danger zone.